Thousands of extra medically fit patients will be discharged from hospitals into community care settings, such as care homes, over the coming weeks to free up hospital beds and reduce pressure on the NHS, the Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay is set to announce today [Monday 9 December].
The government will make available up to £200 million of additional funding to immediately buy short-term care placements to allow people to be discharged safely from hospitals into the community where they will receive the care they need to recover before returning to their homes.
The move will free up hospital beds so people can be admitted more quickly from A&E to wards, reducing pressure on emergency departments and speeding up ambulance handovers. There are currently around 13,000 people occupying hospital beds in England who are fit to be discharged.
The additional £200 million – on top of the £500 million Adult Social Care Discharge Fund already announced which reached the frontline in December and is already helping discharge people more quickly – will fund maximum stays of up to four weeks per patient until the end of March. Integrated care boards – organisations that arrange health services in each local area – will begin booking beds that are most appropriate to patients’ needs.
The government is immediately making available additional £50 million in capital funding to expand hospital discharge lounges and ambulance hubs.
Ambulance queues in some areas are made worse due to a lack of physical space – the new money will create new ambulance hubs where vehicles can manoeuvre more easily to avoid delays handing over patients. The funding boost will also expand discharge lounges in NHS Trusts – areas where patients can be moved out of acute beds while they wait to be discharged, freeing up beds in the meantime.
In a statement in Parliament later today, the Health and Social Care Secretary will outline a series of further measures to address current pressures facing the NHS over winter, including long waits for emergency care and delays to discharging patients who are medically fit to leave hospital.
This will include six areas trialling innovative long-term solutions to free up hospital beds and make sure patients get the right care at the right time, which could be rolled out across the NHS if successful.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said:
The NHS is under enormous pressure from Covid and flu, and on top of tackling the backlog caused by the pandemic, Strep A and upcoming strikes, this winter poses an extreme challenge.
I am taking urgent action to reduce pressure on the health service, including investing an additional £200 million to enable the NHS to immediately buy up beds in the community to safely discharge thousands of patients from hospital and free up hospital capacity, on top of the £500 million we’ve already invested to tackle this issue.
In addition, we are trialling six National Discharge Frontrunners – innovative, quick solutions which could reduce discharge delays, moving patients from hospital to home more quickly.
Sussex Health and Care, the Northern Care Alliance, Humber and North Yorkshire, One Croydon Alliance, Leeds Health and Care Partnership and Warwickshire Place have all put forward ideas that will help the patients in their area move out of hospital more quickly whilst providing continuity of care. These ideas include dedicated dementia hubs, new offers of provision for rehabilitative care and creating effective data tools to help manage demand for discharge of medically fit patients – giving them the help they need to live comfortably in the community after a hospital stay.
This new programme will trial long term solutions to issues which result in patients staying in hospital longer than necessary. For example one area, Leeds, is looking to improve how health teams in their local hospitals are working with those providing community services such as rehabilitation, which will mean better support locally for patients who need support after a hospital stay.
Prolonged stays in a hospital bed can contribute to poorer outcomes, particularly for older people, with increased muscle loss making rehabilitation harder, as well at the ongoing risk of exposure to infections and the impact on mental health. These delays also have a knock-on impact for other people, including those awaiting elective care and those needing urgent medical treatment.
The new measures follow the Prime Minister’s speech last week on building a better future, where he set out one of his key promises that NHS waiting lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly.
Minister for Care Helen Whately said:
Getting people out of hospital on time is more important than ever. It’s good for patients and it helps hospitals make space for those who need urgent care.
We’re launching six Discharge Frontrunners to lead the way with innovations to help get people out of hospital and back home.
Winter is always hard for the NHS and social care, and this year especially with flu in high circulation. That’s why we provided the £500 million Adult Social Care Discharge Fund earlier in the winter.
As well as helping people right now, we’re looking ahead to make our health and care system work better next winter and beyond. These problems are not new but now is the time to fix them for the future.
People eligible for a Covid booster and flu vaccine is advised to take up the offer as soon as possible to protect themselves and others, and reduce pressure on the NHS.
In total, up to £14.1 billion additional funding will be invested by government over the next two years to improve urgent and emergency care and tackle the backlog – the highest spend on health and care in any government’s history. £7.5 billion of this support is for adult social care and discharge over the next two years which will also help deal with immediate pressures.
The NHS is rolling out virtual wards across England as part of plans to deliver the equivalent of 7,000 more beds using a mix of hospital and virtual wards. The NHS has an ambition to set up 40-50 virtual beds per 100K population by 2024. Virtual wards as where people, for example, who have acute respiratory infections can actually be treated at home with telemedicine or pulse oximeters and there is also a new fall service which can save about 55,000 ambulance call outs a year by treating people with falls at home.
91 Community Diagnostic Centres have been opened so far, delivering over 2.7 million tests, checks and scans already to help diagnose patients earlier.
The government is also continuing to grow the NHS workforce, with around 42,000 more staff than a year ago, including over 10,500 more nurses and almost 4,700 more doctors.
Sarah-Jane Marsh, National Director of Urgent and Emergency Care said:
There is no doubt the NHS is under pressure with latest weekly data showing flu cases in hospital increased by almost half putting additional strain on already busy wards and departments.
We want to ensure all patients ready to leave hospital do so quickly and safely, and NHS staff are working closely with local authority colleagues to help get more patients out of hospital when they are medically fit to do so.
We hope the frontrunner programme will offer new solutions for local systems to help patients access the services they need and help to free up bed space in NHS hospitals.